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Apr 6, 2012

Week 28 - We wuz robbed

I still remember a time when only whiners and sore losers complained about refereeing. That memory, already vague, is getting increasingly blurred each weekend.

A quick look at the media tells us that, this week alone in Spain, players from Barcelona, Real Madrid, Osasuna, Getafe, Villarreal and Rayo Vallecano have openly spoken in quite strong terms about their obvious unfair luck with the referees this season. If we widen the scope of the analysis to examine a full month of public statements, my guess is that every single team in the tournament would be included in that list of whiners. And I'm not even mentioning European competitions, where this trend is growing unstoppable.

Discussing referees' performances used to be a fun part of the post-match debates; it now feels like they play matches so that we all can complain about the referees afterwards. Such inversion of values and priorities gets boring, repetitive and tiring. Its only benefit is that you're always right, you sore, pathetic loser.

Shall we? Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.

1. Rayo Vallecano (12th) - Osasuna (6th): X.

In a week plagued by surreal news, Rayo managed to beat them all by publicly suing their own coach. Last year, boss Jose Ramon Sandoval received close to €120,000 from the club just days before the entity entered judicial administration (a Spanish version of America's Chapter 11), and now the administrators want that money back. Sandoval spent Thursday giving outraged interviews to any member of the media who wanted to listen, so expect quite a charged environment in Vallecas.

The fact is that Rayo, having been decent for two-thirds of the season, have lost their last three games, conceding ten goals in the process. Osasuna, overachievers in their own right, feel more confident after renewing Jose Luis Mendilíbar's contract for one more year, so they should get at least a point before a full house in Vallecas (in a populist and well calculated decision, Rayo's management announced half-price tickets for Saturday evening).

2. Espanyol (9th) - Real Sociedad (14th): 1.

Espanyol didn't have an easy week either. Barcelona-based journal Sport uncovered a series of financial deals between the club and an English investment fund, which ended up buying the transfer rights of three undisclosed Espanyol players. The club confirmed the transaction, to the blatant irritation of boss Mauricio Pochettino. "We need to live with this, but it's not good for any team or dressing room," he said.

The Realistas calmed their fans with a 4-0 home victory last weekend, but should be easy prey for the Periquitos. Probably due to their recent behaviour in Madrid, the odds on the Real Sociedad players hitting the Barcelona bars after suffering a good Saturday thrashing in Cornella are even money.

3. Getafe (10th) - Sporting de Gijon (20th): 1.

To my utter disappointment, since Javier Clemente took charge at Sporting, they have not only maintained the same pathetic form - six points out of a possible 24 - but Clemente has also shown signs of senility. Conventional wisdom states that one's ticks and obsessions become uncontrollable with age, and that's what seems to be happening to Mr Clemente.

Never one to deal subtly with the press, some strong criticism of his training methods led him to insult a disapproving journalist - "Someday I'll tell your son his father is a crook" - and then, through some bizarre chain of thought, the representative of the Catholic Church in Spain as well.

Sporting and their manager look desperate, almost relegated. Getafe could very well put the last nail in their coffin.

4. Zaragoza (18th) - Barcelona (2nd): 2.

With three consecutive, improbable wins, Zaragoza have proven that they can pull off yet another great escape from the relegation zone. Their last-gasp wins have taken them off the bottom of the table, although they still sit four points behind Villarreal ... and host the mighty Barcelona on Saturday evening.

The Catalans, happy after making it to the Champions League semi-finals for the fifth time in succession, simply expect another Real Madrid mistake before their meeting takes place in just a fortnight. They'll win in La Romareda with ease. We'll probably see a few tactical tests from Josep Guardiola in preparation for their double encounter with Chelsea, for which UEFA indeed owes all of us morbid spectators the choice of a certain Mr Ovrebo to referee both matches.

5. Betis (15th) - Villarreal (17th): X.

Given the statements from Betis' Pepe Mel after their win in Malaga - "We didn't deserve to win" - one was tempted to favour Villarreal on Saturday, as fortune gives and takes, usually in consecutive matches. However, these two struggling sides would gladly agree on adding one more point to their tally, and the visitors could miss Nilmar and Marcos Senna, who are both nursing minor injuries. Get ready for a Spanish rendition of the Austria-Germany 'Anschluss' from the 1982 World Cup.

6. Levante (5th) - Atletico de Madrid (7th): 2.

If I drew a chart to represent my accumulated win/loss cash gambling on Levante this season, it would resemble Lehman Brothers' share price curve from 2006 to 2009: an initial downtrend, followed by a steady recovery, then very explosive growth, and finally a dramatic fall until bankruptcy.

And yet, very much like Lehman and their toxic assets, I'll stick to my putrid guns until the very end. A group of 30-something, injury-prone footballers can't possibly stand such a long season and finish in the top six. This is a '2', even if it means to break one of my golden Quiniela rules, which is never to tip Atletico for a second consecutive match away from the Manzanares in under than a week. I know - this won't end well.

7. Mallorca (13th) - Granada (16th): 1.

This is a key match for Mallorca if they are to stay in the Primera for another season, having remained in the top-flight since their 1996-97 promotion. The Mallorquinistas, desperate to avoid a repeat of last season's late collapse that almost saw them relegated, will go out to finish Granada off early. And when your top scorer is a defender, as in the case of the Granadinos, it becomes tough to win away from home.

8. Athletic de Bilbao (11th) - Sevilla (8th): 2.

In January 1996, after a series of disappointing results, Real Madrid fired coach Jorge Valdano, temporarily replaced by some hombre de la casa named Vicente del Bosque. In their first performance under the caretaker manager, the Madridistas were due to play at San Mames, against Dragoslav Stepanovic's Athletic.

The Merengues won 5-0 in an amazing display that was saluted by the stadium, with a beautiful ovation offered as their hated rivals left the pitch. San Mames clapped Raul Gonzalez with special devotion, moved by the class and work ethic of this impossibly prodigious youngster, who refused to celebrate the goals or the victory as a sign of respect to his mentor, Valdano.

So if San Mames surprised you with their clamorous and almost unanimous standing ovation for Raul on Thursday night, you should have known better. Contrary to the teachings of the 'Football Equals Politics in Spain' apostles, San Mames possesses an enviable track record of recognising good football, no matter who it is or where they come from.

However, they're in for yet another setback on Sunday. The undermanned Bilbainos can't cope with the burdens of their schedule, and they host an in-form and well-rested Sevilla side, who have just racked up three consecutive wins. Time for Marcelo Bielsa's boys to focus solely on the two knockout tournaments they can still win.

9. Real Madrid (1st) - Valencia (3rd): 1.

Real Madrid's goal-scoring machine, firing on all cylinders, starts the toughest part of the season in top form. In the next month, the Madridistas will play against Valencia, Atletico, Sporting, Bayern, Barcelona, Bayern again and Sevilla - a challenging calendar that will define the success or failure of their season.

Not only do Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain all look unstoppable but now Kaka and Marcelo, too, have joined forces to develop an improbable but killer left-side duo, while Angel Di Maria is showing signs of full recovery, and Hamit Altintop has shocked us all by becoming the Turkish Cafu.

Okay, okay, Altintop doesn't play like Cafu at all, and that has shocked no-one, but the Madridistas host the worst-performing Valencia since Unai Emery took over three years ago. Emery remains in the job due to the Che's consistent Europa League campaign, but a severe thrashing at the Bernabeu could cost him dear. Easy home win.

10. Malaga (4th) - Racing de Santander (19th): 1.

Defeats like the one Malaga suffered against Betis last weekend happen once every 20 matches, approximately. Very likely misled by my superficial knowledge of statistics, I declare it impossible for the Malaguistas to lose two like that in a row. I know, I know, they're independent events, but even if a second loss is not statistically impossible, just keep in mind that it's Racing they play against. Convinced already?

Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section. If you get ten correct results, your name will be mentioned in the following Quiniela column!

1. Rayo Vallecano (12th) - Osasuna (6th):
2. Espanyol (9th) - Real Sociedad (14th):
3. Getafe (10th) - Sporting de Gijon (20th):
4. Zaragoza (18th) - Barcelona (2nd):
5. Betis (15th) - Villarreal (17th):
6. Levante (5th) - Atletico de Madrid (7th):
7. Mallorca (13th) - Granada (16th):
8. Athletic de Bilbao (11th) - Sevilla (8th):
9. Real Madrid (1st) - Valencia (3rd):
10. Malaga (4th) - Racing de Santander (19th):

Last week: 3/10 (30%)
Season: 124/260 (47%, corrected from last week)

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